The SF Chronicle’s editorial page hews distinctly left–with Secondhand Smokette providing an alternate view on the op/ed page. That is why I was struck by the paper coming out against Proposition 2, the HSUS sponsored initiative to ban caging egg chickens. And the editorial board seems to have done its homework. From the editorial:
We heard from the advocates of both sides, and perhaps the most persuasive testimony against the measure came from Steve Mahrt, a Petaluma farmer who specializes in organic, cage-free eggs. Mahrt suggested the rigid language of Proposition 2 would make cage-free operations such as his “uncompetitive” with farmers from other states who could house their hens in greater density. He also suggested that his quarter-century of experience in the egg business – all cage-free – convinced him that the birds were healthier, and happier, in environments where they were packed closer together than would be allowed under Proposition 2.
My biggest concern is the cost to consumers. I was at the store Monday and bought eggs labeled as cage free–at a cost of $2.00 per dozen higher than unlabeled eggs, which presumably came from caged chickens. The editorial also tackles this issue:
Also, as Mahrt noted, cage-free eggs are considerable more expensive than the mass-production variety–but he made a good case that it is more labor intensive and difficult to raise egg-laying hens outside cages. Proponents of Proposition 2 have suggested that the additional cost would amount to only about a penny an egg.
The one cent more line was pushed here too by a HSUS representative, and I am sorry, I don’t buy it. The prices at the store demonstrate that it is false.
The editorial also opines that initiatives are not the way to go in passing animal welfare laws such as Proposition 2, and I agree. This was written by a special interest group that I believe seeks the ultimate end of all domesticated animals, although it doesn’t overtly push that animal rights party line. Yet, I have never seen HSUS admit that any use of animals is necessary for human prosperity or welfare. Thus, rather than pass a law written by one side, I would prefer to see legislative proposals in this field in which HSUS’s voice is heard, but so too are industry voices and those of consumers. As the editorial noted:
The case against battery cages is neither as simple nor as overwhelming as supporters would want you to believe. This is an issue that cries out for balance between the call for concern for the conditions of animals and the interests of those who produce one of the staples of our food supply. The ballot box is not the place to regulate this aspect of California agriculture. Voters should reject Proposition 2.
I don’t tend to follow newspaper editorials when deciding how to vote. But this one may be an exception.
(The Chronicle published an alternative view on the op/ed page today by Bill Niman, the founder of Niman Ranch, a raiser of humane meat, that focused solely on the humane aspects of the argument. Here is the link. I wonder of Niman knows that animal rights activists would like to drive him out of business?)